Liverpool’s recent slump returned with a vengeance as Watford punished an insipid and toothless display from the Reds, emerging comfortable victors for the first time since 1999.
Liverpool came into this game without a victory since November 29, when they scraped past Swansea City at home with a 1-0 victory, and looked desperately short of cutting edge in the final third, and were often rather sloppy in all areas of the pitch.
If anything, Watford were somewhat profligate on an afternoon where they simply swept a Liverpool side who struggled to create anything. Hornets’ boss Quique Sanchez Flores opted for go for an unchanged side from the one that overcame Sunderland away from home by one goal, with Ighalo and Deeney starting up top. José Manuel Jurado was now playing behind Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo in his usual role as an attacking midfielder.
Jürgen Klopp, meanwhile had chosen to make significant squad rotations: Christian Benteke had to settle for a place on the substitutes, and Mamadou Sakho also failed to survive within Klopp’s starting line-up, whilst James Milner was left out from the starting line up at Vicarage Road. Simon Mignolet had suffered from a slight hamstring problem, therefore young goalkeeper Adam Bodgan was between the sticks as the German boss eyed a first victory in five competitive games.
Jürgen Klopp’s hopes seemed to be going awry from the start, as Watford pressed Liverpool, forcing them into their own half as the Merseysiders struggled to gain defensive momentum. The Hornets’ punished Liverpool for failing to deal with a corner, almost inadvertently.
As Adam Bodgan made his first league appearance for Liverpool, he had a moment to forget in the second minute of the match as he failed to deal with a straightforward corner that sailed into the box. The Hungarian made a meal of it, and fumbled it straight into the hands of Nathan Aké, who stabbed into the back of net.
Liverpool seemed fazed by the hosts’ opener: despite appearing to have the lion’s share of possession, they were ultimately unable to convert that into clear-cut chances, as a resolute and well-organised Watford defence were rarely troubled, up until Phillipe Coutinho’s 20-yard effort which was comfortably gathered by Heurelho Gomes.
As a result, the Reds were punished for lethargic stamina fifteen minutes later as in-form striker Odion Ighalo fired in from a seemingly complex angle. The Nigerian forward shrugged off the physical attention of Slovakian defender Martin Škrtel to rifle the ball past Adam Bodgan and into the corner.
As the half time grew to a close, Jurgen Klopp had only made one substitution prior to the interval, with Divock Origi replacing an injured Martin Skrtel: which only compounded the injury list for Liverpool.
The second half started with Origi sought to create an impact on a horrendous first half for Liverpool: which he emulated the week before at home to West Brom. The Belgian seemed willing to lay off the balls to team-mates in good areas, and created a half chance for the Reds on 48 minutes as he held off defender Britos, but failed to force Brazilian keeper Gomes into a meaningful save.
However, he soon lost his way in the game as Watford began to force Liverpool into near moments of defensive lapses. Again, Liverpool struggled to deal with a corner into the 18-yard box from Ighalo, the goalscorer. It caused a scramble and havoc in the area, but Liverpool were let-off the hook.
Odion Ighalo continued to torment the back-line of the Reds, as he comfortably out-muscled the likes of Lucas Leiva, and it took Adam Bodgan to deflect the Nigerian’s effort of the crossbar.
Liverpool’s first effort at goal that drew Heurelho Gomes into action was in the 66th minute as his half volley was tipped over the bar by Gomes. Emre Can then had a shot at goal from 20 yards out, but it was parried away from Gomes as Klopp began to call in the big guns: Christian Benteke and Jordan Ibe came on for a subdued Roberto Firmino and Adam Lallana.
It began to irk the German boss and the Merseyside fans inside Vicarage Road when they failed to create any impact on the game, during the Reds’ best spell of the game.
To compound the long journey home, Odion Ighalo completed his second of the match to put the game all but beyond Liverpool, and equal Watford’s remarkable story of late.
Valon Behrami’s delivery into the area was inch-perfect for the Nigerian attacker, who glanced the Swiss international’s cross past Bodgan, leaving the Hungarian with no chance.
The defeat leaves Liverpool in 9th place, who face top-of-the-table Leicester City at home next, whilst Watford remain in 7th in the league after four successive victories. The Hornets’ reward will be a home fixture against London side Chelsea on Boxing Day.
Interview – Liverpool boss Jürgen Klopp: ‘I would hopefully say it’s the most disappointing moment in my Liverpool life from now on.”
“Of course the first ball from Adam Bogdan, he should keep and he drops it. Having seen it again usually it is a foul but it is 1-0 and our reaction was really bad. ” The first one is his [Bogdan] fault, but then both hands on the ball, that is the goalkeeper safe, he has the ball, I think the referee didn’t see it. It was the wrong decision but we made more wrong decisions.”
“We lost our mind and stopped playing football. The second goal was very easy, we can defend this better.”
“We tried a bit in the first half and changed a bit half-time, the start to the second half was very good, we could have scored two goals, but we did not and then the third goal. Yeah, game over.”
On Martin Skrtel’s injury: “Martin Skrtel is injured now, that is a problem I don’t know who will come back in this moment, nobody had a rest, now we have to look who is available for Boxing Day.”